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The Effects of Authoritarian Iconography: An Experimental Test


Do public images of state leaders affect individuals’ political attitudes and behaviors? If so, why do they have that effect and among whom? Authoritarian iconography could increase compliance with and support for the state via three causal mechanisms: legitimacy, self-interest, and coercion. This article uses a laboratory experiment in the United Arab Emirates to evaluate the effect of public images of state leaders on individuals’ compliance with and support for an authoritarian regime. Using a pre-registered research design, it finds no meaningful evidence that authoritarian iconography increases political compliance or support for the Emirati regime. Although these null results may be due to a number of factors, the findings have important implications for the future research agenda on how and why authoritarian leaders use political culture to maintain power.

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